Packers kicker Mason Crosby picks a bike to ride at a recent training camp practice. Melinda Palzewic Photo
By Rich Palzewic
Editor’s note: The Hot Corner is a sports column that will appear in the print edition of The Press when room permits. Check thepress.media for any columns that may not appear in print.
GREEN BAY – In some cases, a statement can be made that is unequivocally true. This is one of those cases.
I’m talking about the Green Bay Packers Experience at Lambeau Field, which I claim is like no other – despite the fact that I’ve never gone to another NFL stadium in my life.
This past weekend, I, along with several other thousands of fans, young and old, made my way to the iconic stadium for the beginning of training camp, the annual shareholders meeting and the Packers Experience held in the parking lot.
Held in correlation with the team’s 100th season, the four-day Packers Experience was a free festival for fans of all ages.
It featured live music, a replica team locker room, kids’ activity zones – including football clinics, Packers alumni question-and-answer sessions, football toss, field goal kicking, Packers dress up, obstacle courses, tricycle racing and much more.
“What an amazing event,” said Tammy Scheffer from Mishicot. “I brought my two kids and I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was by far one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed. There was so much to do for the kids and it was all free.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Tammy.
I honestly couldn’t believe what I witnessed last weekend, either. Everyone I saw had a smile on their face and looked genuinely happy to be there.
Even as a non-cool, 46-year-old dad, I will say it was awesome.
After doing most of the events in the festival, we walked over to “dream drive,” the long barricaded path where the players choose a bike from a youngster and ride it over to Ray Nitschke Field for practice, a tradition that dates back to the Vince Lombardi era.
Fans were lined up two or three deep along the railings trying to sneak a peek.
My daughter squirmed her way into the front row and actually got a high-five from Packers receiver Randall Cobb as he passed by on a bike.
From there, hundreds of fans made their way over to Nitschke to watch the third open practice of the season.
It’s obvious the Packers realize the importance of the fans, so they treat us well.
Yes, tickets to a game are expensive and sometimes hard to get, but events like the Packers Experience, training camp, and even the Titletown District itself, prove my point.
In short, I challenge you to find a better setting in professional football.
I actually had several friends tell me in the past that they are not Packers fans because of the fans themselves. Huh?
I’ve never understood this reasoning. I call it being passionate.
Having the Packers in the smallest town in the NFL is an amazing thing. It brings an awful lot to the city and surrounding areas in terms of the economy.
One of my earliest memories of being a Packers fan was when I was 15 years old in the late ‘80s.
My cousin was kind enough to get me tickets for my birthday and we drove down from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a game.
He was going 41 mph through Oconto (well before the bypass was built) and was pulled over for speeding.
He didn’t have enough money to pay for the ticket up front, so he had to spend several hours in the Oconto County Jail until his mother could wire the money for the citation.
We missed the first half, but we got to see nearly three quarters of the game because it went into overtime.
On a side note, since I was only 15 and didn’t have my driver’s license, I couldn’t drive the vehicle back to the jail, so we had to leave it there along the highway outside of town.
I remember after my cousin was released, we had to hitchhike back to the spot.
Talk about Oconto County hospitality.
Other than an occasional visit to Green Bay for one thing or another when I was younger (mainly shopping for myself and my six sisters), I never went to a training camp practice or the Packers Hall of Fame.
Heck, I didn’t even know what Bay Beach was. I guess I didn’t know what I was missing.
Even if you’re not a Packers fan, take advantage of these free events. They happen more often than you think.
Walking across Ridge Road and back to the parking lot in the Titletown District after the festival, my daughter was jabbering about how much fun she had and that “Randall Cobb gave me a high-five!”
After I told her to never wash her hand again, I smiled at her and also said, “You are very lucky to live 10 minutes from the most famous stadium in the NFL.”
She smiled back.
For once in my life, I think she actually believed me.